By Theresa Jarosz Alberti
(published in Welcome Home, June 1997—back when the Internet was just catching on)
The baby is down for his nap, and my four-year-old son and daughter are happily involved in playing pretend. Now is the time when some mothers might flip through a magazine, turn on the television or tackle the next chore on their list. As for me, I head straight for the computer. For the next half-hour, I am no longer just one mom in one house alone with the kids. I am Internet Mom, cruising down the online Information Superhighway without ever leaving my chair!
I can remember life before the Internet. Four years ago, I was home alone with my newborn twins during one of the longest winters in Minnesota history. I knew few other stay-at-home moms, and none lived nearby. I hadn’t yet heard of any support organizations for new mothers. Despite the weather, I would bundle up my two babies and head for the mall in search of social interaction. But it was hard to come by, and I couldn’t help pouncing on my husband Bob when he came home from work each night; I was starving for adult conversation.
When the babies turned a year old, Bob used his knowledge as a computer programmer to get me connected to the Internet. “You’re gonna love it,” he promised, but I was doubtful I would ever understand its complexities enough to have fun with it. After several tutorials with Bob, I made my first tentative explorations and started reading messages posted to a general discussion group (known as a “news group”) on writing. When I grew comfortable reading the messages others had written, I tried posting a message of my own. The next day I discovered the true magic of the Internet: people had responded to my question with answers or comments of their own. I was communicating!
I began searching out other news groups in my areas of interest. There were thousands to choose from! I began reading and posting messages in a size-acceptance news group, a cooking news group, and a poetry news group. For a long while I was active in a news group for parents called “misc. kids.” There were over a hundred new messages there a day, covering nearly every parenting issue imaginable. While some people wrote cute things their children said or went into elaborate detail describing their labor and delivery experiences, many of the messages concerned questions and answers to parenting difficulties. I found it invaluable that I could get responses, opinions, and tales of experience from a wide variety of individuals in a matter of days. I consulted misc.kids when my daughter, then two, became hysterical about bugs flying around her head and refused to play outside for several weeks in the summer. The responses I received reassured me that my child was not the only one to whom this had ever happened and gave me ideas to try to make her feel more comfortable outside. (She settled for constantly wearing “bug sunglasses” that would keep insects from flying in her eyes.) Being able to consult the Internet lessened my sense of helplessness and gave me a fabulous new resource.
My connections on the Internet have also helped me to make friends with people I would probably never have met otherwise. Three years ago mutual Internet acquaintances hooked me up with Cynthia, in Kansas, and Marjorie, in Massachusetts, who are also writers and mothers of young twins. Without ever meeting in person, we formed a three-way pen pal relationship (through traditional U.S. mail—or “snail mail,” as it is known, since Cynthia was not yet online). Through lengthy letters we commiserated, shared our joys, and encouraged one another. I find it remarkable and very satisfying to have found friends who share two very important aspects of my life. How else would I would have found other mothers of twins who write?
My current Internet interactions deal with mailing lists for more specialized interests. Unlike news groups, mailing lists are private, and the messages can only be read and responded to by subscribers. These messages come directly to one’s e-mail address in the form of e-mail letters. Between these two groups, I get an average of thirty messages a day. While it may not be quite as gratifying as receiving real letters in the mailbox, it is fun, quick, easy and stimulating. And I don’t have to wait for the mail carrier to arrive; I just have to wait for all three small children to be occupied!
For me, going online has been an extremely helpful tool in ending the isolation I felt as a new mother at home. I have since gone on to find more mothering resources off-line: support groups, parent and child education classes, and real, in-person friends; the Internet is now just one part of my supportive network. I know I’m lucky to have had my husband there to show me how to steer and turn and accelerate on the Information Superhighway. Perhaps there is someone in your life who could do the same for you. If so, honk when you go by. I’ll see you on the virtual road!